(Guru's Note: Here is AP coverage from Indianapolis)
By Cliff Brunt
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The high-scoring Phoenix Mercury saved their season with defense.
The Indiana Fever led the WNBA finals series 2-1 and had a chance to clinch their first title in front of an active sellout crowd that included local celebrities such as Indianapolis Colts players Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. None of that mattered as the Mercury beat the Fever 90-77 on Wednesday night to tie the series and force Game 5 Friday in Phoenix.
Indiana shot 2-for 13 in the fourth quarter, stifling any chance it had of overcoming the 72-65 deficit it faced going into the period. The Fever scored 12 points in the quarter, the third-lowest total in a fourth quarter in finals history.
While Phoenix defended well, Indiana's stagnant offense helped.
"In the fourth quarter, nobody wanted to take the shot for them, so they were just passing it around," Phoenix center Tangela Smith said. "That's what we wanted."
Tamika Catchings, who led Indiana with 24 points and 12 rebounds, agreed that her teammates became hesitant. She said this is the wrong time for that.
"Hopefully, that's out of our system and we'll get to Phoenix Friday and we'll be ready to play," she said.
Catchings shot 11-for-17 and Ebony Hoffman scored 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting. The rest of the team shot 11-for-44.
All-Star Katie Douglas, who was hoping to celebrate a clinching win in her hometown, scored seven points on 2-for-14 shooting.
"I thought Katie got some great looks, looks she had been knocking down from the 3-point line to the rim," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. "Maybe toward the end, she passed up some shots because she had missed them."
Indiana's bench, which both coaches had said was the reason the Fever were leading the series, struggled on Wednesday. The Fever bench shot a combined 2-for-16 from the field.
Indiana rookie reserve Briann January, whose quickness had been a matchup nightmare for the Mercury, shot 1-for-9 and finished with eight points. Phoenix's Diana Taurasi said stopping January was a key.
"In these games, we've struggled when everyone has gotten their points, especially Briann when she comes in and changes the game," Taurasi said. "Sometimes you focus on certain things and you get them done."
Phoenix's offense was in tune as usual. Cappie Pondexter scored 22 points, Penny Taylor added 17 points and Taurasi and Smith each scored 16.
The Mercury shot 10-for-24 from 3-point range. Phoenix felt Indiana controlled the tempo and slowed it down the past two games, but the Mercury felt they regained control on Wednesday.
"Our strength all year has been in our confidence in our attack, and I felt we got that back," Taylor said. "We were playing with confidence and attacking every single time down floor, and that's hard to defend for 40 minutes."
Phoenix shot 72 percent from the field in the first quarter to jump out to a 33-22 lead. The Fever held the Mercury to 16 points in the second quarter and cut their deficit to 49-47 at the half.
Indiana tied the score at 59 on a layup by Catchings with 4:30 left in the third quarter, but Phoenix went on a quick 6-0 run to force a timeout and put the fans, who had been standing in anticipation of a Fever lead, back in their seats. The Mercury extended their lead to 72-65 at the end of the third quarter.
Indiana trimmed its deficit to 72-68 on a steal and layup by Catchings, but the Fever went cold and the Mercury pulled away with a 12-2 spurt. A 3-pointer by Taylor made it 84-70 with 2:33 to go.
Dunn was disappointed to lose at home, but focused on the fact that her team still could win the championship.
"They had to win," Dunn said of the Mercury. "They had to do it the hard way. Now, we've got to go out there and do it the hard way, too. The only situation we've got here is that we're tied."
Taurasi was glad to earn another chance, but she wouldn't promise a victory on Friday.
"I'm going to guarantee that we're going to come out and leave it all on the floor," she said. "I'm going to guarantee that the minute the game ends, we're going to be spent physically and emotionally — and hopefully we're holding the trophy."